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Stony Brook women’s soccer about to face its toughest test of the year

The Stony Brook women’s soccer team’s defense clears the ball from the box against Hofstra on Sunday, Sept. 17. The Seawolves’ defense will be key in their match with Towson on Thursday. STANLEY ZHENG/THE STATESMAN

Now on the outside of the playoff picture, the Stony Brook women’s soccer team looks to climb its way back up the conference table.

After a narrow 1-0 loss at Monmouth, the Seawolves (3-3-4, 1-2-2 CAA) will travel to Maryland to take on the first-place Towson Tigers (8-1-1, 4-0-1 CAA). The Tigers are currently riding a four-game winning streak and have not been beaten in any of their last five matches. Opening kickoff between the two sides is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday.

Stony Brook has not faced off against Towson in 17 years. In two meetings between both teams, each side has won one match.

Towson will be ready to score, as it boasts the second-best attack in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA). In 10 matches, the Tigers are averaging 2.5 goals per game. They have overtaken the Seawolves for the CAA lead in shots taken with 174.

Having all three of the CAA’s leading goalscorers, Towson’s attack is loaded with firepower. Towson forward Jasmine Hamid leads the conference with nine goals. Fellow forward Nia Christopher trails her with seven goals. Christopher is also tied for second in the CAA with six assists in 10 games. Forward Phoebe Canoles is tied for third in the conference with five goals and co-leads the Tigers with six assists.

Towson has a very generous offense, as it leads the conference with 29 assists as a team. Behind Christopher and Canoles, four different Tigers have three assists each: midfielders Julie Lynch and Alexandra Rush along with defender Reese Borden and forward Demi Pierre. Hamid and midfielder Rebecca Groseibl each have dished out two assists for the Tigers.

Coming off her best game of the year, goalkeeper Nicolette Pasquarella must be stout in net if Stony Brook is to win this match. Pasquarella has proven to be a fortress in goal, as she has the third-most saves (34) in the CAA and averages the fifth-most saves per game (3.4) in the CAA.

The Seawolves’ backline will hope to lighten Pasquarella’s load on Thursday after asking her to make eight saves last Sunday. Leading their backline are defenders Catharina von Drigalski and Kerry Pearson. Between those two, defenders Grace Cagnina and Aneta Sovakova have been handling the load on defense. Midfielder Gabby Daniels will also help defend from the middle of the pitch.

The back four have started together in Stony Brook’s last five matches, conceding only six goals. Prior to the Monmouth game, the unit had only conceded 16 shots on target across four CAA contests. Overall this season, the Seawolves’ defense has been middle of the pack, conceding an average of 1.2 goals per match.

For Stony Brook to pull off an upset against the conference’s top dog, it has to rely on some explosiveness from the offensive end of the pitch. The Seawolves have the fifth-best attack in the CAA, scoring 1.7 goals per match.

On the Stony Brook attack, head coach Tobias Bischof has been deploying a frontline of forwards Gabrielle Côté, Reilly Rich and Luciana Setteducate. Rich is the Seawolves’ leading scorer with five goals, tying her for third-most in the conference. Côté is the second-leading scorer on the team with three goals. Setteducate has been setting up her teammates from the striker position, creating two assists in 10 appearances. However, she is still in search of her first score of the season after tallying three goals last year.

Behind the frontline, midfielder Linn Beck has helped support the Stony Brook attack. Beck has contributed with two goals — both off penalty kicks — and three assists this year. Midfielder Ashley Manor has also contributed two goals this year.

The Seawolves will match up against a solid Towson defense. The Tigers have conceded just nine goals in 10 games — the third-fewest in the CAA. Towson goalkeeper Riley Melendez has been solid, conceding nine goals in 10 matches, which is the fifth-fewest amongst qualified leaders in the conference. Melendez also has the fifth-best save percentage in the CAA (.750) and the sixth-most saves in the CAA (27).

In front of Melendez, the Tigers’ backline is led by 2022 All-CAA Second Team defender Maja Hansson. Towson head coach Katherine Vettori has typically selected defenders Jacey Miller, Sydney Cradle and Borden. This backline has been one of the toughest defenses to break down in the CAA, conceding just 4.10 shots on goal per match.

Stony Brook will have to utilize its ability to win set pieces in order to break down the strong Towson defense. The Seawolves rank first in the CAA in corner kicks (75) and penalty kick attempts (four). After falling to sixth in the conference with 152 shots taken, they will have to test Melendez more. She has only needed to make 2.7 saves per match, which is only ninth in the CAA.

If Stony Brook picks up three points on Sunday, it can jump as high as sixth place in the conference. Leaving the match empty-handed may kill Stony Brook’s playoff hopes, as it only has five points secured in CAA games.

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